Campus Art Galleries

A new year means a return to the daily grind of work and/or school, but it also means new opportunities for discovery. Last month, I wrote a piece encouraging students to take advantage of campus facilities that can enhance student life, but I certainly didn’t cover them all. For example, if you are a full-time or even part-time student, why not check out your campus’s art gallery? Besides offering a potentially mind-blowing experience, a gallery visit is a great way to support local artists as well as creative minds from around the world.

The Blackwood Gallery at the Mississauga Campus of the University of Toronto (UTM) is an impressive example of a university gallery that is absolutely worth taking the time to visit. Every month or two, a new exhibit is installed in a pair of small but workable spaces—the Blackwood Gallery, located in the Kaneff building, and the e|gallery in the CCIT Building. In addition to the students who accidentally stumble across the gallery, a micro-community of local art enthusiasts also make regular visits to this venue.

The art displayed at the Blackwood is always high-calibre in terms of quality. As one example, Seripop (a duo consisting of collaborating artists Chloe Lum and Yannick Desranleau) received the Best Exhibition Award for Landscapes events reproducted by the Ontario Association of Art Galleries (OAAG). I got the chance to view Landscapes for myself, and it was a truly impressive sight to behold. The installation occupied both gallery spaces. In the Blackwood space, large pieces of poster paper were shaped into a 3-D mound that vaguely resembled downtown architecture. The sheer size of this mound was almost overwhelming in the modest space, and its strategic positioning in the room prompted me and other gallery-goers to peer around it searching for gaps. Art plastered to the floor caused spectators to feel uncomfortable at the prospect of walking over it as the room became progressively more crowded during the exhibit’s official opening. The artists certainly knew how to draw attention to their creative efforts!

In the e|gallery, a massive amorphous blob made of fishnets and stuffed with hundreds of folded-up fishlike shapes was even more all-encompassing compared to the poster paper structure on display in the Blackwood. Because the e|gallery is a considerably smaller space, the vaguely whale-like shape generated an atmosphere that was distinctly claustrophobic. However, the psychedelically colourful murals painted high on the walls provided a pleasing counterbalance to the sensation of being enclosed.

Some of the exhibitions installed in the Blackwood Gallery aren’t really exhibitions at all, but participatory experiences. House of the Unexpected, which took place in Fall 2012, was an extension of an ongoing project launched by London-based artists/filmmakers Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. For an entire month this duo took up residence in the Blackwood Gallery to host discussions and workshops that relied on participants to shape the experience. An example of these workshops was the Game of Power, which involved prompting spectators to organize a table, six chairs and a bottle of water in order to create a type of inanimate hierarchy and to make one of those objects the most “powerful” item in the room. The workshops and discussions were documented through videos and blogs to create a dynamic and unpredictable end result. Indeed, the experimental House of the Unexpected completely blurred the lines of what defines an art exhibit and what one can expect to see in an art gallery.

Despite the consistently fascinating art exhibits installed in the Blackwood Gallery, it remains a relatively little-known part of the UTM campus. In fact, I didn’t even know it existed until I was in my third or fourth year! It’s a shame, because almost everything on display is worth a visit. Perhaps, however, the relative obscurity of the Blackwood Gallery will experience a turnaround now that it has been named one of “Three Metro Toronto’s unsung art galleries” in a feature story in last Saturday’s edition of The Toronto Star.

One thing’s for sure: I’ll be paying my old campus a visit very soon! Why not look into the arts and entertainment options on your own campus? You might be surprised at the strong creative work that’s easily accessible—quite often for free.

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